Education, Not Regulation
Last night I had the pleasure of offering my thoughts about Clayton’s proposed ban on smoking in “public” places. I prepared written testimony for the Board of Aldermen, but when my turn came to speak I departed significantly from what I had written because the previous speakers (mostly in favor of the ban, ironically) had really made my point.
Many of those calling for smoke-free businesses in Clayton went out of their way to show that a large number of St. Louis–area businesses (including several in Clayton) have already made the transition and are doing very well. As I pointed out to the board, this is proof that the market is already at work! Businesses are realizing that, if given a choice, large numbers of people would prefer to dine in smoke-free environments, giving smoke-free restaurants a competitive advantage among that group of consumers. In the meantime, other businesses believe that demand will also rise for places that cater to smokers, as their competitors jump onto the smoke-free bandwagon. Each set of establishments has a niche they can cater to, and each enjoys a competitive advantage against the other in regard to the consumers in that niche. Under the current situation, everyone — business owners, customers, and workers — is free to choose the path that suits them best, maximizing overall satisfaction.
Under the proposed ordinance, however, that freedom would be obliterated. Because all businesses would be forced to adopt smoke-free environments, the competitive advantages that both sides currently enjoy would be destroyed. Nonsmokers would likely experience only a very slight rise in their satisfaction, but this restriction of liberty would greatly inconvenience those who prefer to smoke.
The main point I tried to make last night (which is, unfortunately, curtailed at the :45 mark in this KSDK news clip) is that I appreciate the concerns and the passion of those who want to see more smoke-free environments — but their energy should be focused on educating their fellow citizens and lobbying business owners to voluntarily go smoke-free. While it might be easier to persuade lawmakers to eliminate freedoms that you don’t like, that sort of authoritarian approach runs directly contrary to America’s greatest strength: our freedom to make decisions for ourselves.